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Growing Up

Growing Up

by Marco M. Pardi

The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt.”

Max Lerner. The Unfinished Country. 1950

All comments welcome and will receive a response.

My companion dog, Plato, was taking me for our morning walk today when we encountered a neighbor and her companion dog, Boudreaux. Boudreaux is actually female, and has long loved Plato. Plato and I are on good terms with the whole family.

As we walked we talked about where, other than Georgia, we would like to be. Suddenly my neighbor asked, Where did you grow up? I was a bit taken aback. People more often ask, Where are you from? Actually, I was equally surprised at my own reaction: I didn’t quite know how to respond. I wanted to ask, What do you mean by growing up? But I trotted out a list of places in chronological order, assuming that at some undetermined place I had grown up.

The question seems to presume we are all in agreement on what constitutes growing up. Does it literally mean reaching your adult height? I’ve known a range of people, from military dependents who moved every couple of years to people who willingly lived their entire lives in the small towns where they were born. Yet nothing in that knowledge of those people tells me about their growing up. Was it when they first had sexual intercourse? If so, what does that say about the child who was preyed upon by an adult? Was it when they first realized religion is a man made construct for money and power, with little or nothing to do with whether there is a god? Was it when they first held a job which enabled them to be “self sufficient”? Was it when they first took a human life? Are we talking about places or events? If it’s events, why do places matter?

Nearing the eve of my first marriage I mentioned to some associates (I was a Research Associate at the time), older professors of Clinical Psychology, that I was getting married. One woman look down her formidable nose at me and said, “Well, that ought to mature you.” What? Four years in active military, several non-military clandestine ops, and being in my mid-twenties and I was not “mature”? Strange, I thought decisions such as marriage were made by mature people, not by people still growing up. Then again, maybe that showed I really wasn’t grown up.

So how do we reckon being grown up? Can we declare it ourselves, or do we need to get the Imprimatur from a Clinical Psychologist? I have never been impressed by milestones, especially those erected by other people. I’ve known children who were “wise beyond their years” and adults, like our current President, who were or still are the tallest brat in the daycare.

Some traditional cultures still mark the development of sexual maturity as the advent of adulthood, growing up. But there’s a very good reason for that. Pregnancy can bring huge consequences for the group as a whole.

Having worked several years in the clinical epidemiology of sexually transmitted diseases, I can opine that the onset of sexual activity does not necessarily herald what I interpret as “grown up” behavior.

Most cultures have some form of Rite of Passage marking transition into adulthood, though they may not be labeled as such; driver’s license, drinking age, voting rights, draft eligibility, etc. are some examples. But these are external markers. We assume a person who reaches them in fact qualifies for them. How do you feel about the chronological right to purchase a firearm, even obtain a concealed carry license?

Yes, I know that in some cases, such as driver’s license. there are tests that must be passed. But seriously, do you think these filter out the kids who will go out and street race that day? A background check for a firearm purchase illuminates (hopefully) past infractions and/or mental health issues. But are you willing to bet your life that no new circumstances will spark an inappropriate reaction?

In too many cases we act as an after-the-fact culture; a person who, have reached a marker, has been granted permission for a certain behavior such as driving or owning a firearm does something which harms or kills another person and we wring our hands and say, Oh, I guess you were not grown up after all. But our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.

And speaking of victims, we often read of childhood sexual abuse victims or child refugees as “having their childhood stolen from them.” While no one should deny that their life experiences have been horrible, does that mean they have bypassed childhood and become adults? Are they grown up? Or are they a different kind of child? People who actually work with these children affirm to us it is the latter; these children are still children albeit with additional challenges on their road to growing up.

I used to flippantly say the next stage after maturity is decay. But maybe maturity is a temporary plateau from which we can launch very substantial changes, intentionally or not. How often have we heard of a couple having “grown apart”? I’m sure some partners would see the changes in their partners as decay, but maybe it’s a continuous process of growing up. And if that’s the case for both the partners it can’t be surprising that so many grow apart.

I was 27 when I began teaching college. A few years into it I was also offered and accepted a one year appointment to teach at an ultra conservative private college nearby. My classes were Marriage & the Family. A couple of months into the first semester at that college my wife filed for divorce and left for an unknown location with our small daughter. I did not use this event as a teaching model, or even mention it. But I suspect the more perceptive students noted a change in my demeanor even if I did not intend it.

But this event got me wondering: Do we judge maturity by a person’s experiences and knowledge, or do we judge maturity by the way a person processes experiences and knowledge? The former is an objective, if not very helpful measure. But the latter is fraught with subjectivity. It raises the question: Who are you to judge me?

I’m always puzzled by people I’ve not seen in a long time saying, “You haven’t changed a bit”. Is this a compliment or an insult? I say that because I see that temporary plateau I mentioned earlier as just that: temporary. Life is a growth process not a series of static stages. In my youth I found the Peter Pan story somewhat interesting, particularly since I had a hormonal response to Tinkerbelle. But the story seemed frightening in the same way as those stories about spending “eternity praising God and sitting on clouds”. Eternally static. What a true nightmare. The same holds true for those stories about the Genie and the magic lamp. As the saying goes, Be careful what you wish for. The unspoken follow-up to that is that you could be stuck with that wished for object or state or person forever. As a child I decided I would tell the Genie my wish would be to have the continuing power to obtain what I wish for. It was only later I realized I had better ask for wisdom, too.

I’m interested when I hear an adult ask a child, What do you want to be when you grow up? Just once I’d like to hear the child say, I may grow up but I will BE nothing in particular. I will handle life as it comes.

When I say I’m not done growing up it doesn’t mean I have to behave like a child. It means I’m continually discovering my ability to see and understand the world around me. But that doesn’t mean people will agree with my understanding. It only means it works for me, and that’s just fine.

How about you, Dear Reader?

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Comic Relief

Comic Relief

by Marco M. Pardi

Humor must have its background of seriousness. Without this contrast there comes none of that incongruity which is the mainspring of laughter.” Max Beerbohm. “A Conspectus of G.B.S.”

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

In the 1970’s I watched a film titled, Mother, Jugs & Speed. It was a “black comedy”, featuring a strong cast of well known actors, which portrayed a struggling ambulance company competing for the lucrative Los Angeles contract. Mother was Bill Cosby, Jugs was Raquel Welch, and Speed was Harvey Keitel. Additional characters rounded out this exceedingly dysfunctional crew.

I don’t know if the film was a box office hit, but I watched it on television. I laughed so hard throughout the film I thought I might have to see it again in case I missed anything.

So, have you ever wondered how ambulance crews and funeral home personnel cope with the situations they see almost daily? I have some experience in both those areas. In 1959-1960, my senior year in high school, I was seriously in need of a way to avoid an extremely dysfunctional household. The small Southern town we had recently moved to had two (White) funeral homes. In many parts of the country funeral homes also provided ambulance service, and this town was no exception. Since this was a 24/7 need, as was collecting a corpse from a private home and taking it to a local doctor’s home for confirmation of death, or from a hospital or nursing home to the funeral home, crews lived upstairs in the funeral home. Perfect. Although I was a year too young to legally drive the ambulance I could be part of the two man team for either ambulance runs, body collection, or providing at-home oxygen and other palliative equipment and care. With no requirement of special training, I was hired immediately. My duties were evenly split between ambulance and collection with occasional support elsewhere. I was almost always partnered with “Harold”, a 6’5” beanpole and my 5’9” stocky frame. Mutt & Jeff.

One of my first lessons was the adoption of appropriate affect. We might be upstairs laughing at a tv show but when a family came for a viewing we were instantly somber. Sometimes that backfired. Harold and I went on a night time collection of a man who had died at home. With somber faces we were ushered into a front room with two card tables, snacks and drinks, lots of people looking at us, and a withered rail of an elderly man lying on a cot in his underwear, the bedclothes in disarray and his arms hanging off the cot. His smiling daughter’s first excited words to us were, “You missed it! You should have seen him kick. Didn’t know he had it in him.” It was then I noticed the cards on the tables were all face down. As soon as we cleared out the mess they were going back to their games.

But we had games as well. The prep room, where embalming, repair, make-up, etc was done, was a windowless room in the back. Entered through swinging double doors, the room had two side by side prep tables separated by a narrow passage to the instrument counter at back. The overhead lights were operated by a cord hanging down between the tables but to get to the cord one had to let go of the doors, which quickly shut behind you leaving you in the dark.

Pizza delivery was a new thing, but Harold already had a plan. He called and ordered a delivery while “Thomas”, another employee, went into the prep room, took off his shoes and socks, and lay on a table under a sheet, feet sticking out toward the doors. When the wide eyed boy arrived with the pizza Harold apologized for leaving his wallet on the back counter in the prep room and, of course, the boy eagerly volunteered to retrieve it. Harold kindly told him where the light cord was. We heard the doors creak open and swing shut …seconds before we heard a scream and the doors slamming outward. Thomas, the corpse on the table, had grabbed the boy in the dark as he passed between the tables. After the boy left, with a stiff tip as it were, we agreed it was fortunate the doors swung both ways or we would have been re-framing and re-hanging the doors all night.

It wasn’t pizza that got me a few nights later. We got an ambulance call to transfer a cardiac patient to a better equipped hospital. The ambulances were simply customized station wagons with red lights, sirens, and flat floor with jump seat behind the driver and radio seat. Harold drove and, on picking up a patient, I crawled in the back to sit with the patient. This night we picked up a monstrously obese woman who was in bad shape. No sooner had Harold hit lights and siren than she began moaning something repeatedly. Thinking I would get her last words for her family I leaned in closely. That’s when she cocked her head toward mine and projectile vomited what must have been a gallon of All You Can Eat into my face. I was so shocked I yelled, NO WONDER YOU’RE SICK. Harold was laughing so hard the ambulance began swerving and, while I fought to keep from falling on the woman he called ahead to the emergency room and requested several wet towels be ready. The nurses on the ramp were clutching themselves laughing as I slithered out the back of the ambulance with professional decorum.

That week-end we had a funeral to do. It was on the last of several days of hard rain. As the family departed the graveside and we rolled back the astro-turf covering the open grave we saw about a foot of water in the grave. That state did not require a grave liner in those days. When we lowered the casket into the grave one of the wet stainless steel rods on the mechanism fell off into the grave. Being the new guy, I was appointed to drop down atop the casket and slide my arm into the very narrow space and retrieve the rod from the water. After several attempts using two fingers I finally got it and, in exuberance, stood atop the casket and loudly said AAAAHH. The two grave diggers, approaching with shovels over their shoulders, saw me arise grinning from the grave. If the Olympics ever has a Shovel Throwing Event I know where to assemble a Gold Medal team. And they cleared tombstones like a High Hurdles event.

Some weeks later Harold and I ran an emergency call to a high rise office building in the center of town. We had to double park the ambulance in the street, lights flashing. The first sign of trouble was the elevator. Built for four very close friends, it required us to jack-knife the gurney to get to the 7th floor. Once there we discovered a large man in his office chair, purple blood pooling under his mandible and urine drying on his pants. Clearly dead. But we weren’t licensed to pronounce it so we had to load him and then jack-knife him into the elevator with Harold and me. Good thing Harold did not have that second hamburger for lunch. The ambulance had drawn a crowd so when the elevator doors opened and the gurney sprang out with a dead guy on it people fell back and gasped. We got him back on the gurney and rolled him out but then 6’5” Harold yanked his end up high to clear the parked cars and 5’9” Marco held as high as possible while a pair of shoes crept toward his ears. We almost dropped him in the street.

Some time later Harold and Thomas decided to liven up a slow day. Thomas lay on the ambulance floor while Harold and I drove casually out of town. Once in the clear we stopped and Thomas got on the gurney, I got in the jump seat, and Harold raced us into town with lights and siren. He killed the siren but not the lights and slid into a gas station by the pump. As the attendant came out he said, Fill ‘er up and check the oil. I “worked” on Thomas. I remember the attendant rattling the hose in the filler tube and asking, You sure you aren’t in a hurry? Harold counted out the money and we took off.

But this was small stuff. On a week-end I luckily decided to have one night at home Harold, Thomas and a couple of others got with the guy who was our regular mechanic. Built like a jockey, and with a jockey’s horse-like little face, he was a perfect fit for a prisoner’s coffin we had. Just a black pine box with nail on lid and silver looking handles, it fit nicely into the black panel truck we had for home oxygen delivery and burial equipment. The truck had the name of the funeral home on the sides, but not “funeral home”. So Harold and a couple of the guys put the mechanic on a prep table and, with wax and make-up, gave him scars and “stitches” on his face. They loaded him, in the pine box, into the panel truck with feet to the back doors and drove 25 miles south to a classic little town built around a square.

These were the days of drive-in restaurants with “curb hops”, usually high school girls in little skirts. They pulled in and, when the girl came for their order, ordered three hamburgers and three cokes. Harold explained the third guy was doing some work in the back and would the girl mind going around and opening the doors to give him his order. When she came with the tray of orders Harold paid her and she hopped around back and opened the doors. The mechanic sat up in the coffin and groped for the food, groaning ravenously. The car hop screamed, the food flew in the air, and diners on both sides spilled their Cokes. They made a quick getaway and probably would have made it back to the funeral home but they stopped at another drive-in for a re-run. Same thing. But this time their escape was stopped by a swarm of Sheriff’s deputies alerted to the roving ghouls. All the deputies thought it was hilarious, except one. And so it was they were cited for “Disturbing the Peace” and ordered to appear in court.

The next day, a Sunday, the owner of the funeral home was in his office with a copy of every major State newspaper on his desk. Prominently on the front page of each: “Ghouls strike in (name of town)”, or something similar. I’ve rarely seen a man so close to major stroke. It was interesting.

So, we had colorful characters, including the guy who had terrible Athletes Foot and soaked his feet in embalming fluid. It worked, but walking barefoot on the wooden floors he sounded like the Dutch Boy in his wooden shoes. But one point I must make is that I never once saw or heard of any mistreatment or disrespect of any of the corpses or any of the ambulance patients.

Still, I suppose some readers did not find the foregoing very amusing. I think humor, like jargon, is often specific to careers, workplaces, and other definable venues. How often do we find ourselves saying, Well, you had to have been there. Stand up comics succeed when they connect their humor to situations the audience can relate to, often situations that in themselves are not really funny. That gives rise to the saying, All humor is based in tragedy.

Although it is obviously naive to refer to the “American culture”, the country appears to be struggling through a period in which certain traditional humor is now off limits. We now rarely hear the once common trinity of, A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Minister walked into a bar………, or some variation thereof. We no longer hear ethnic jokes. George Carlin and Richard Pryor are gone, and not soon to be replaced. Now we often find ourselves wanting to tell people to: Lighten up. And we wonder if someday someone will remember the day we told that joke.

Life is too serious to be taken seriously. Have some fun and share it.

Knowing Mortality

Knowing Mortality

by Marco M. Pardi

We thank with brief thanksgiving

Whatever gods may be

That no life lives forever

That dead men rise up never

That even the weariest river

Winds somewhere safe to sea.”

Algernon C. Swinburne,

Garden of Proserpine” 1866

All comments welcome and will receive a reply.

When I was a child my grandmother had a large parrot who lived in a cage in her suite. I do not recall his name as we did not have him long. He had learned to somehow fling his copious excrement with disturbing accuracy. Nonetheless, I did learn that some parrots lived to ninety years and beyond. So that set me to wondering. My grandmother seemed to have been born old. Each morning as she awoke I suspected she had turned back her odometer during the night. So, who was going to outlive who? My grandmother lived to 94. I don’t know about the parrot.

In the years since I have had many more non-human companions than human ones. And right now my dog – a rescue of unknown provenance – is probably approaching thirteen. His hearing has diminished – or maybe he’s “heard it all already”. He ascends the stairs by “bunny hop” instead of the streak he once was. And he sometimes sleeps close to noon.

When he’s sleeping, late in the morning or in the evening, I often observe his chest. You know, to see if he’s breathing. And I wonder how I’ll feel if one day he’s not. So, while intellectual honesty prods me to recognize that I could die at any moment (as could any of us) the far greater likelihood is that I will one day be lifting him into my car for the trip to the veterinarian either for that last injection or for the single cremation I intend.

Speaking of who goes first, I always ensured that when I had to go on trips my companions were either boarded at a place they knew and liked or there was someone at the house who cared for them and had my authorization to obtain any veterinary care or final disposition as needed. Instructions were also firmly in place should I not return.

I have taken that last trip to the veterinarian so many times before with dogs and cats. Of course, it doesn’t work that way with horses. But you don’t want to read about what normally is done and I don’t want to write it. I will say I don’t do things normally. I pay for the use of a back-hoe to do a burial.

But why do we do it? Isn’t the avoidance of pain and sadness a lesson we learn in childhood? Are we suspending our rational minds and living in a forever world which will never change, never end? It has been said that having a pet/companion is like having an infant who never completely grows up. No matter how you feel you must still take them out for their walk. You must still feed them properly. You must take them to the vet for their shots and other preventive medicines. But you may find yourself again at the vet for illnesses. When out for a social life or simply running lots of errands you must watch the time for their walks and their meals. In having company over you must graciously but firmly establish ground rules, especially when children are involved. And, if you care enough about your companions to have them in the first place you must engage with them in enriching play and activities. Finally, you must reckon that in the growing up weeks and months there may be some damage, even destruction to shoes, furniture, etc. You will find yourself adjusting your lifestyle through a preemptive defense.

Yes, there are many Musts in having a pet/companion, and that’s where so many people draw the line. In fairness, there are valid reasons to not have one. Some people travel constantly for work, some people have severe allergies, and some simply can’t afford it. I’m pretty firm in saying one should never have just one companion. Imagine yourself as the only member of your species being kept in a home with a radically different species. The problem is immediately apparent with “pack animals” such as Huskies. They need each other as much or more than they need you.

But there is nothing like a furry paw gently pushing your book – or your cellphone, away from your face, and eyes saying, I’m here. Let’s play. In fact, there’s nothing like an insistent companion to get you out of yourself. Or out of the house. Neighbors have congratulated me on my daily walks. But I tell them, Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be doing this except that he (my companion dog) wants and needs it. I know a few of my neighbor’s names. I know the names of every other dog we meet. I wouldn’t know some of those neighbors had they not been walking their dogs.

Companions provide other benefits as well. Multiple well done studies have shown the correlation between lowered blood pressure and simply petting a dog or cat. This is no longer in dispute. And I needn’t go into the many examples of companion animals saving their humans in a wide array of emergencies.

Lately we have opted for boarding our companion rather than taking him with us on long trips. The car rides are harder on him. He stays at a kennel with lots of space and people who know and care for him. But sometimes we arrive home after the kennel is closed for the night or the week-end and the house, without him, is just not a home.

Yet, we know in the back of our minds, or the seats of our pants – wherever you do your thinking – that these days are numbered. All things being equal, the horizon is closer for our companion than it is for us. Yes, some day, we say.

I have often read, and I have heard veterinarians say, your companion will tell you when it’s time to go. That’s a nice idea to hold to, but I do have mixed feelings about it, as does anyone who has faced that choice and wondered, Is he telling me? I can think of one case in which I, to this day, feel I may have waited too long. But how can I know?

I have also read several well documented books, and interviewed well established and proven mediums, telling me companions have spirits as well as we do and they pass into the same form of existence as we do. In fact, my own experiences strongly support this. Oh yes, there are those people who sniff, That’s unscientific! My answer is simple: people who say that is unscientific immediately demonstrate they know nothing about science. Science is NOT just about cataloging everything which meets the eye. If that’s your goal, become a librarian. Science is not just about asking What Is; more important is asking What If. And the exploration of If, in this area, completely satisfies me that my companions have a spiritual existence just as I do. And no, that absolutely does not imply a God or gods or Chief Spirit. That’s a human projection, although I used to threaten a misbehaving Husky of mine that I was going to report him to the Head Husky.

For those who need references for the many hundreds of scientifically based studies in which non-human companion animals have featured, try Stanford University, University of California at Santa Barbara (they recently contacted me for support in this area) Arizona State University, Eastern Michigan University, and State University of New York.  You may also examine the Windbridge Institute and the Institute for Noetic Sciences. 

So, I do know that barring unexpected issues of my own, I will one day be making that familiar trip to the vet, or asking them to come to the house for a home ceremony and passing. I suppose I will cry my insides out. And if history is any guide I will always, always remember the good times and the bad because things don’t really get better. We just get better at handling them.

In that spirit of handling it, I will go to our community shelter and bring home another needful companion. Perhaps an older dog who no one else wants – and he knows it. I will not sit in a house without a furry companion. I will make a home again.

Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild

by Marco M. Pardi

The way to final freedom is within thy SELF.”

THE BOOK OF THE GOLDEN PRECEPTS.

Ascribed to ancient Buddhism.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

As I was borrowing Jack London’s famous title for this piece I flashed on a memory of an advertisement that ran years ago. A liquor distiller displayed a bottle of bourbon alongside a basket out of which were peering a litter of Siberian Husky puppies. The banner read, Call of the Mild. I thought that a very effective ad. You take the bourbon, I’ll take the puppies.

Of course, my mind immediately seized on the seeming contrast of wild and mild. Throughout my teens I was keenly interested in studying and understanding the behavior, indeed the world view, of non-human animals in the wild. Even then it seemed to me there were deep lessons for humanity there, but like daydreamers in classrooms we were too preoccupied with our own fantasies and self appointed status. While the Roswell “incident” spurred a quickly growing literature and film industry in “science fiction”, showcasing imaginary intelligent life elsewhere I felt we were ignoring a multitude of intelligent societies all around us because we were too unintelligent to recognize intelligence.

Just as I think we misuse the concept intelligence by vastly underestimating its forms and breadth, I think we misuse the word wild by misunderstanding its rules. We often read of wild parties, wild rides, and etc. with the implication the events were chaotic, unpredictable, even dangerously foolish. But anyone who has spent time observing non-human animals can attest there is nothing like that in “the wild”. Even play behavior is a form of varied training for skills necessary throughout later life.

So, what do we mean by wild? The easy, and most common answer is a plant or animal which has not been selectively bred over generations by humans to produce traits and behaviors desired by humans; they are not domesticated. In fact, many such domesticated species, especially animal, would not survive long after the withdrawal of human support; they have become dependent on humans. This is especially apparent in cases of large populations such as factory farmed animals. Were they to be released, the numbers vastly exceeding the available forage would doom most to starvation, many to malnutrition based disease, and a hardy very few to a limited lifespan.

What’s the take-away from all this? Not only is the human population nearing 8 billion and growing by the day, it is increasingly concentrated in urban centers which, in terms of natural support, are utter wastelands. True, rooftop gardens are gaining in popularity, and vacant urban lots are being exploited as neighborhood vegetable gardens. But these are paltry efforts in the face of oncoming climate change which will severely alter the distribution of rainfall and temperatures appropriate to the growing of food as we know it. Complicating things still further is the remarkable shift to living along seacoasts, a pleasing locale for now but soon to be taken back by the seas, as we already can measure. Clean air, food and water, not oil and gas, are the ultimate resources. As expanding concentrations of humans pour more pollutants into the air, land, and water and as the consequent climate change alters or destroys the usefulness of these resources we will increasingly see large populations migrating to those remaining areas assumed to still have useful resources. A primary justification for the Viet-Nam war was the Domino Theory, the idea that if Viet-Nam fell to the communists neighboring countries would soon follow. When Laos and Cambodia fell to the Pathet-Lao and the Kmer-Rouge the war hawks claimed vindication. Yet, it was not the fall of South Viet-Nam which brought those about; it was the bombing of the farmlands and paddies west of the Mekong river which ruined the land and drove the starving rural populations into the urban centers where there was little to no food to share with the populations already there. Did we learn from this? Look at Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen for your answers. Ask the people of Europe how they feel about the influx of migrants looking only to feed their families. Look a bit further back. Czarist Russia did not defeat Napoleon’s armies by force of arms. As the armies swept across Europe, living off the land, they marched deep toward Moscow only to find themselves on a burnt landscape walking among the rotting carcasses of livestock that could not be moved. In their retreat the Russians implemented a Scorched Earth policy. French numbers plummeted through starvation and disease. A basic look at “wild” populations would have brought home the message: Never let your numbers exceed their resources.

I’m not saying non-human animal populations consciously meter their numbers to their food resources. Perhaps they do, perhaps not. I am saying that those population numbers vary in direct relation to available food. Long before general malnutrition affects the population the excess young adults are pushed out and, in some cases, predators take the old, the sick, and the excess young. The only serious predator humans have is other humans. And these other humans have agendas far beyond simple access to resources. Christians in particular seem to feel they have a divine mandate. But the mandate has morphed from the biblical “being a good steward” to the materialist “dominion over Nature”. That these neo-materialists seem to have not even a rudimentary understanding of Nature makes no difference to their inexorable march toward their own Moscow. They will reap a scorched Earth, unfortunately taking us along in the process.

Our growing urban centers, along with their sprawling suburbs, are resource parasites. In order to meet the growing demand for food our farmlands are increasingly becoming chemical beds of toxic pesticides and fertilizers, our factory meat production consumes 85% of the antibiotics in this country. These pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and animals wastes run off into our waters including our aquifers. The Mississippi river delta spills out into an exponentially growing Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The fastest growing population there is a new species: oil drilling rigs.

There is renewed interest in terraforming other planets, such as Mars. This is just a 21st century version of “Go West, young man.” It is highly improbable, if not impossible that significant colonization of another planet can mitigate the disaster developing here. But if humans intend to survive on this planet they must immediately address what we must now call a World Emergency. Unlike the “National emergency” now declared by the Republican regime in its effort to build a monument to Trump, this emergency is real. We must take steps to reduce population growth, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and free ourselves from the oligarchs and the theocrats who dominate our societies, enslave the people financially and spiritually, and destroy the planet. We should decentralize our cities into manageable villages connected by electric transit. We should re-examine our educational system in order to stress ecology, ethology, and critical thinking beginning in the primary school system. We should educate and develop a workforce competent to efficiently produce renewable energy, free of fossil fuels. We need to break free of our own “domestication” which has entrapped us into narrow and limited thinking, doing the same things over and over as we obey the bidding of our masters. We need to stop imagining some future intervention that will save us, and get to work now. We need to get wild.

Oh, and if you read my column you should comment. We can’t converse if I do all the talking.

One day in class a particularly surly student challenged me with, If chimps are so smart, how come they don’t have cell phones? An ethological answer would have been too easy, and probably beyond his grasp. I simply answered, If humans are so smart, why do they have nuclear weapons?

False Peace

False Peace

by Marco M. Pardi

Peace, n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.” Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) The Devil’s Dictionary. 1911.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Repeat readers know me as insistent on trying to establish the absolute bedrock of a concept before engaging in discussion. “False” is easily enough defined and agreed. But, “Peace”, well that’s another matter.

I conceive of peace in both an active and a passive sense. While in the U.S. Air Force I was in a Strategic Air Command Heavy Bomb Wing, also with ICBMs tipped with MIRVS. (Heavy = nuclear; ICBM = Intercontinental ballistic missile; and, MIRV = multiple independent re-entry vehicle). Most people know that military units have their distinctive patches and logos, from squadron level to the service branch itself. The SAC logo was a clenched armored gauntlet with an olive branch extending out the top and a lightning bolt out the bottom. Surrounding this was a banner reading, Peace Is Our Profession. Interestingly, it was emblazoned on each side of the nose of B-52 bombers – each carrying enough hydrogen bombs to bring “peace” to hundreds of square miles. During those years SAC had fully one third of its bomber force in the air twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week. Part of the MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction, philosophy, I saw this as an ironic example of active peace, comparable to a parent holding a hand over a child while telling it to behave.

How did we live our lives under the: now imminent – then remote – then possible likelihood of being vaporized as the Cold War could have turned Hot? We consoled ourselves with imagined narratives ranging from pseudo-psychological analyses of our “enemies” to fantasies that our side would prevail to revealed wisdom that the whole world is secretly ruled by the Illuminati and they would never kill off the unwitting slaves who keep them in comfort and power. False peace.

That the peace was false could also be seen in the plethora of proxy wars going on around the world through those years. The Korean Police Action (“Korean War” is legally a misnomer) saw the Chinese against the Americans and other signatory States such as Australia under the rubric Korean Police Action. The event was such that the U.S. military began seriously preparing for what was seen as the “eventual and inevitable land war against China”. In the late 1950’s, only a few years later Viet Nam was seen as a training ground for officers and non-commissioned officers who would be part of that war against China. While low ranking enlisted men, overwhelmingly short term draftees, were sent into Viet Nam on 12 month combat tours many officers were sent on 12 month tours which were split into 6 months administrative and 6 months in the field. The idea was to rotate as many officers through “Asian” combat as possible in training for the Chinese war. Of course, the damage done to the enlisted men by continuously inexperienced leadership showed in many ways, including the practice of “fragging” (killing with a fragmentation grenade) the inept officers.

This preparation showed in other ways. As American troops got larger and heavier the weapons got lighter and more powerful. Why? Because the proxy conflicts increasingly employed allies composed of lighter and smaller people. And, there was huge money to be made through arms sales to these people. We could say we were at peace so long as someone else was doing the fighting.

Toward the other end of the scale are the examples of inter-personal false peace. I am sure every reader knows of at least one couple in which one partner, or both, is living “a life of quiet desperation”. This may be from fear of financial ruin in a divorce, fear they are too old and unattractive to find someone else, or just fear of living alone. These are real fears and are not to be discounted. There are people who dream of going to their graves and pulling the dirt in after them. How many times, after someone we know divorces, have we thought, I never heard them argue?

So where do we find true peace? Is it to be found in distractions, new toys, shopping, religion, the ever increasing television programs? As a young man I took an interest in the monastic life though in the Buddhist tradition, not the Christian. Gods made no sense to me. This interest was no surprise. When I was six years old a Catholic nun asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. She probably expected fireman, policeman, etc. I said, Hermit.

Obviously, I never took the step of entering a Buddhist monastery, though I looked deeply into the philosophy and practices. Instead, an active life beckoned and I heeded the call – face first. And yes, during some very troubled years I found both the philosophy and the practices of Buddhism brought me peace. But I also found something else. I came to the firm conviction that just hiding myself away in a monastery (yes, I do know that one runs to a monastery, not away from something else) or even just sitting alone in meditation for extended periods each day (sorry, can’t do the Lotus position without disjointing my knees) will not bring me peace. In fact, I came to view that as selfish. At best it would bring me false peace.

I found that, for me, peace is to be found in sharing with others. I am not saying that I have the secret of peace to share, or even a guaranteed pathway to peace; I am saying that doing what I can to provide others with a venue for contemplation and, hopefully, deeper realization brings me peace. Admittedly, this requires a certain amount of vigilance on my part. Not only should I guard against trying to impose my realizations on others, I should also guard against unwarranted judgments on the merits of others’ realizations. But then there is the trap of moral relativism, the extension of validity to another point of view simply and only because it is held by another person and not on the merits of the point of view itself. As must be obvious to the readers of my articles there are ideas and behaviors I disagree with. Expressing my disagreement brings me more peace than retreating and listening only to myself. It is important to step forward and navigate the minefield of moral relativism; to say No when you feel No. Any of us who have quietly stewed at home, recalling an interaction with someone in which we did not speak our mind will know that peace is not attained through simple quiet. The turmoil and self-blame in your mind is louder and more uncomfortable than any outspokenness would likely have been.

Still, there is obviously a need for discretion in interacting with others. But all too often that need for discretion pushes us into interactions only with others who we expect will mirror our thoughts and feelings; the echo chamber effect. How often have we left such an interaction asking ourselves, What was gained by all that? When I was a prep school student I was asked to be on the school debating team. I did so, and the first thing I learned is that the “other side” will never publicly yield to your position. In fact, the point is not to convince them; it is to convince the audience. Thus, I had to learn to be at peace with what appeared to be a failure (the other side not yielding) and looking to the eventual judgment of the 3rd party – the audience.

This experience helped me to understand that I don’t have to convince everyone. I don’t have to achieve “total victory”. I can be at peace without that. The All or Nothing conflicts we see from the international to the interpersonal levels will not bring us peace no matter the distractions they offer in the interim. But staying withdrawn and silent is not the road to peace either. It brings us only False Peace.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Strange

Give Us This Day Our Daily Strange

by Marco M. Pardi

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply.

Do you wonder what your dog thinks when you enter a darkened room and turn on the light? I do. Is he thinking, My Two-Legs has super powers!? Is there some basal religious component in his thoughts of me, He Who Lets There Be Light. He who gives me my daily bread. He who forgives my trespass when I vomit on the carpet.? Or, is he thinking, Humans are so lame. The planet has been cycling from light to dark and back again for billions of years and humans have been here in some form for millions of those years. Yet, change the scenery a bit and they still haven’t learned to use their other senses. We should never have befriended them and helped them develop.

I just don’t know. Do you? I do know my dog’s hearing is diminishing so I’ve been showing him a few hand signals. For a 13 year old he learns very quickly. Most dog trainers stress repetition and reward. I suspect most dogs just draw it out for the treats; they got it the second time, if not the first. I had an attack dog in Africa who learned dozens of verbal and silent commands. One very hot evening I was walking around with him on base and discerned he was thirsty. I knew where a chilled water machine fountain was and we walked there, making sure no one else was around. It was a standard height machine with a foot lever at the bottom.

I walked up to the fountain, put both hands on the basin, leaned over the spout and placed my right foot on the lever. My dog watched the water come out. I then stood back and motioned him to the machine. He hesitated so I did the drink again. As I stepped back and motioned again he duplicated what I had done and had himself a good long drink. Maybe he was ready the first time and was concerned I would drink all the water. In any case, from then on he was attuned to any water fountains, but we were rarely on base.

He taught me some things. Out on the scrub desert he was apparently pleased when I smashed several desert scorpions that came scuttling at us. He seemed to understand that I had the boots and he didn’t. Why these scorpions launched a kamikaze attack is still a mystery to me. But when we came across a mob of big black beetles and I started stomping some of them he gave me a very disapproving look. It then occurred to me the beetles were no threat to us. But he knew that.

Years later I realized a behavior in my horses. A friend would occasionally meet me at the ranch for an afternoon ride. She was a three martini lunch lady, often without the lunch. Even when she approached my horses from downwind they would not let her near them if she had been drinking, even if, to me, she showed no outward signs of it. I could only surmise that the horses were somehow aware her mind was altered. True, horses are incredibly more perceptive than most people realize, but I felt this was exceptional, even strange.

My tri-color Persian cat also displayed interesting behavior. Since I adopted him from a newly divorced woman who had let him run free outside he was adamantly not a house cat, which worried me a lot but I could not hold out against his yowling to go out. During those years I had occasional crushing migraines, best treated by simply lying on my bed sometimes for hours. Then I noticed that when these happened he would jump onto the bed, settle beside me with his paw on my forehead and stay there for the duration. Although I’ve never read a cat book I’m betting there are no accounts of cats practicing Shiatsu on their humans.

Long a supporter of ethology, the study of animal behavior (I and others include humans in this) I strive to keep an appropriate distinction between the behaviors of non-human animals and human animals. The easy trap for many is anthropomorphizing – projecting human intentions on non-human behavior. But it is also easily possible to identify commonalities if one looks at fundamental levels and the context within which they manifest.

For example, I’ve long thought that salient markers of intelligence are the ability and willingness to play and a pronounced sense of humor. We could well add ability to interact cooperatively with other species. The attack dogs I mentioned earlier were never given a chance to truly play. We took them out of their kennels for training with tight, strong muzzles and ran them through repetitive drills which may have appeared playful in the first parts but quickly turned to bruising scrambles over 9 foot high barriers and fighting with a helmeted, face-masked man in a heavily padded attack suit. Worst of all was the fact this was done during the heat of the day, year-round, on the edge of the Sahara Desert. To say I didn’t see much in the way of intelligent life among the handlers is an understatement. But then, it was a rough time in a rough place.

Of course, I broke the rules. I smuggled cans of dog food to him and, when supplies were dropped to us I gave him all I could spare – of what was good for him. All but one of our patrol areas were solitary assignments; we had just each other. So, I took him off leash, told him to Stay, went and hid and then whistled for him. He found me every time, and got lots of hugs and praise. Those were the few times I saw his tail wag. It benefited both of us.

We’ve all seen videos of dogs soliciting help for injured canine companions. I have directly had that sad experience. But what about other species?

A few years ago I was standing quietly on my deck watching the birds come to the feeders and wait their turn. Since I also put seed in a tray for the bigger, ground feeders I routinely had as many as ten doves walking about only a few feet from me. But this afternoon a pair of doves landed on the railing near me. One dove sat perfectly still while the other alternately nudged (her? Him?) and looked at me. Something wasn’t right. I slowly went into the house, got a saucer of water, and returned slowly to the deck. As I slowly approached, the active dove stepped a few inches to one side but kept looking from me to the mate. I actually walked up to the mate and put the water in front of it, watched all the while by the other one.

No water was touched while I watched from either the deck or inside the house. After a while they were both gone. But I’ve long wondered what the problem was.

Again on the deck, I was watching squirrels scurrying about in the small woods out back when I heard something nearby. My yard is part of what long ago was a farm and the ground is still terraced as it slopes toward my house. On the side of a nearby slope a yearling female squirrel was rolling around in the fallen leaves. I thought she was hurt or ill. But then she gathered herself into a tuck and rolled heels over head for another descent down the slope. All by herself she was having fun. I’ve seen videos of crows and ravens body skiing down snow covered slopes then going up for another run. But I had never seen a squirrel do this. Maybe I could join her.

The point of all these examples, and the many more each of us could cite, is that there are wonders around us seven days (and nights) a week. Some people are more surprised than others, not being habitually observant or, as we find so many of us in America and throughout the world today, absorbed, shocked, and withdrawn as the United States circles the drain leading to a sewer of extreme oligarch driven de-regulation, greed, dishonesty, economic disparity, subjugation of women’s reproductive choices, and wanton destruction of the planet. A long term survey compiled from several international sources has documented a worldwide drop in wildlife from 1970 to 2010 of a minimum of 60%. As anyone with an I.Q. even approaching any of the species mentioned above knows, the policies under our current regime, even after it is deposed, will project their momentum far into the future, degrading our planet, causing massive displacement of human and non-human populations alike, and leaving a wasteland habitable only for those who would quickly and amorally take lethal action against others in order to survive.

I know some people who refuse to follow the news or read significant books, saying “politics are not my thing. They disturb my peace.” I continue to announce “Breaking News” nonetheless simply because very soon there will be no distraction powerful enough to return a sense of peace to those who did not speak up in time.

At the same time, having lived through protracted periods of life threatening stress, I firmly recognize the value of mental balance, the occasional respite. I suggest to those who are feeling the now very rational stirrings of true dread that they take a moment to look around, to see with new eyes, the “daily strange” around them. It can be far more effective than a fleeting You Tube video. And it can even give new support as one turns back again to participate in the daily struggle to stop the ongoing damage and to try to undo some of its effects. A timeworn saying is, “Stop and smell the flowers.” We might want to take heed. The suicidal overuse of “pesticides” is causing our pollinator species to plummet in numbers below critical levels.  We could modify an old military saying about cigarettes, “Smell ’em if you got ’em.”  

How about you, Dear Reader? What Daily Strange have you encountered today?

Prophecy

Prophecy

by Marco M. Pardi

The well adjusted make poor prophets.” Eric Hoffer. (1902-1983) The True Believer. 1951

Many unhappy persons affected by ambitious mania, or theomania, are looked upon as prophets, and their delusions taken for revelations.” Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909). The Man of Genius. (The Hebrew, nabi, used in the Bible, connotes both prophet and madman.)

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

From early childhood I’ve been interested in the phenomenon of prophecy. It carries within it so many implications which, if taken logically step by step provoke much thought on the nature of existence. And, it can come in a variety of forms, not all of which are equally obvious.

If, like me, you refuse to believe something simply because it has been said, you find yourself with certain questions which begin even before considering the substance of the prophecy. These questions go deeper than just, Who is this prophet? They go to the context in which the prophet appears.

Every culture has had, and still has people who appear to be remarkably insightful, and some who appear to be prescient – able to accurately predict future events. But some cultures are more accepting of these abilities than others. Some quickly accept them as “God given gifts” while others contort themselves with empirical testing, psycho-dynamic hypotheses, and even speculations on the quantum nature of existence. Of course, there are also those cultures which, placing high value on the study of history and the intricacies of critical thinking, recognize and consider the thoughts of people often referred to as “futurists”; nothing magical there, just a logical progression.

When looking at prophets in the vernacular, an interesting distinction, and one with consequences for us, lies in the contrast of the Etruscan culture with the Hebrew culture. The Etruscans, centered in the Etruria area north of Rome, were and are famous for their Eat, Drink and be Merry approach to life, and to death. Their view of the afterlife was a continuation of the joys of mortal existence but without the hassles. Their sense of place in the world was fully invested beyond the mere physical, acknowledging unseen forces at play in everyday currents. Their sense of self was holistic.

Thus, when a haruspex – someone sensitive to these unseen forces and able to “read the signs”, pronounced upon those signs and their implications he or she did not imagine a personified entity (a “god”) as the causative agent. Rather, it was the workings of the whole, albeit beyond what we would later call factual understanding. Of course, then as now we tend to remember the correct pronouncements and overlook or forget the incorrect ones, unless they resulted in true calamity.

As Rome developed and expanded its power it absorbed the Etruscan culture, as was later to become its habit with all it encountered. But Roman “gods” were personified and real only in the eyes of the ignorant and simple minded. In fact, the term pagan, so heavily used by Christians to disparage pre-Christian thought even today, derives from the Latin pagani, a term referring to the uneducated and simple minded “country bumpkins”. It pointedly does not single out or refer to any particular belief system. The educated Romans, the real powers of State, placed the highest values on principles such as Wisdom, Loyalty, Bravery, Virtue and others. To them the Statue of Liberty would be what it is, an icon to call to mind the values for which it stands, not some physical depiction of a real woman holding a torch and perhaps demanding worship. It should be said that contemporary Greeks could be divided along the same lines: Those who understood iconic values and powers versus those who personified those values and powers.

During Imperial times the Romans banned astrology and other forms of divination on pain of death, especially when these were aimed at the Emperor. They were more advanced than some modern societies in understanding how ideas and claims can “go viral” and foment civil unrest or even rebellion.

On the other hand, the Hebrew culture, long and greatly influenced by the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians and later the Greeks, blended the personified forces of Nature (the Genesis narrative is written in the plural) and added layers of characters such as mal’akh, the classical Hebrew word for messenger, an intercessor modeled on the Greek Hermes and known to modern Christians as an angel. Christians would carry this stratification further with saints and demons.

Unlike the Romans, or modern Christians, the Hebrews lived in total and complete immersion in their belief system. They were not, like modern Christians – secular materialists six and one half days a week and “spiritual” a few hours on the seventh. Every aspect of daily life, from eating to sexual intercourse, was calculated and performed within the prescriptions of the belief system. An example of how this daily immersion was misunderstood by the Greek writers of what was to become the Bible is the Lazarus story. In fact, there were many stories of people being “brought back from the dead”. The reason was simple: A Hebrew who fell away from the faith was a person with whom absolutely no interaction of any kind was possible. This person was then, effectively, dead to the community. And, these people were referred to as “dead”. Restoring a person into the faith was thus “raising him from the dead”. The Greek writers of the Gospels, ignorant of the Hebrew/Jewish meaning behind these stories, rendered one of them as a matter of fact history in support of their new prophet-deity, Jesus. The many other such stories were simply ignored or destroyed.

So what exactly were these Hebrew prophets we hear so much of? Basically, they were the precursors of our current media pundits. Our modern culture overlooks something: The developing Christian church scrambled through existing literature to find, and carefully edit, long standing writings that would seem to validate the lineage of Jesus and “predict” his coming. Thus, the emphasis on the writings shifted away from social commentary and toward claimed predictive value. Prophecy became synonymous with prediction. But in fact the great bulk of prophecy was astute and biting social commentary especially as it related to the ruling powers. Simple logic would dictate that when one enumerates the harmful fallacies and evil deeds characterizing a given society one moves to propose an unpleasant outcome. This does not mean one “sees” that outcome, as in a vision of a future state of being. It simply means the house is built badly, and badly built houses fall down. What dire visions were expressed in prophetic writings come off more as wishful thinking crafted through the magical mechanisms acceptable in the times.

Which brings us to our current state of affairs. Not for the first time in history, but certainly as an example of the best employment of prophecy, a hostile foreign power, not just a solitary home grown malcontent, analyzed the recent trends in government and society and accurately identified what, to many, are the harmful fallacies and evil deeds responsible for the failed dreams of those many. And, far more potent than just another deranged looking figure wailing on the street corner or scribbling manifestos in a cave, this foreign power channeled its messages through the greatest proliferation of media outlets the world has ever seen. Already having a compromised businessman in pocket, the foreign power astutely identified the “base” for this man, the pagani of modern America, and crafted the prophecies directly to them. His demagogic speeches, peppered with “dog whistles” to racism, fear, and alienation, appeared to be talking points set out for him to answer with, “I know better than (fill in the blank)” and “Only I can fix it”.

For their part, the media was distinctly unable to predict the disastrous consequences of their decision to reap the financial rewards of continually covering the ravings of this “prophet”. After all, who doesn’t want comic relief once in a while?

Sadly, the country, and even the world, is paying the consequences of a minority pagani victory: a bipedal tumor in the White House actively metastasizing throughout the entire political party which thinks it owns him.

I recently read an article explaining how many American fundamentalist/evangelicals – the modern pagani – actually see the current president as sent by God. I doubt that opinion influences him much, since he seems to have thought that from somewhere near birth. But I am interested in how he was about to sign a bipartisan government funding Bill which would have averted a shut-down yet refused at the very last minute after hearing from media prophets like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter. Limbaugh and Hannity each flunked out of college in their Freshman year. I don’t know about Coulter. Obviously these prophets have the ear of a large percentage of the public, but more specifically his “base”. This tells me he either thinks they would rise up in his defense during an impeachment or he is serious about running for office again. He may be thinking a sitting President cannot be indicted for crimes, so he will try to sit until he’s too old or dies in office.

But who knows, I’m no prophet. I do find myself in a quandary when it comes to voting rights. The stakes have gotten far too high to just sit back and say everything will even itself out. It won’t. That foreign power mentioned above accurately assessed our population’s greatest vulnerability: The willingness to rally behind the next prophet.